Updated: Let me sum this up. Ableton may or may not have a vocoder in the works (signs actually do point to yes on that). The best part of this story is the remixed “no one needs a vocoder” video, which encapsulates electronic music’s current love/hate/cliche relationship with the thing. And other than that, there’s a lot of me talking without really have any idea what I’m talking about — which is why I usually don’t post on Sundays. Doh. Just watch the video / sample it in your next Live set.

I haven’t necessarily been following Live’s forums lately, but apparently one of the hot-button issues lately was a rumored "secret" vocoder in a future build of Ableton Live. The myth goes something like this: a camera crew doing a behind-the-scenes look at Ableton’s Berlin office accidentally captures a brief moment in which an unreleased vocoder appears in the bottom part of the screen. I’ve been hearing buzz about this for weeks, but Garret Collins is the latest.

I actually really recommend the Inside Ableton MusoTalk video (German); it’s a great little feature. But, of course, the hint of something new in Live has now upstaged that original video.


Live fans go even further, so that the Vocoder — hang on, it’d need a simpler Ableton-y name, like … uh … Carrier or Encoder — is part of a massive conspiracy by which Ableton keeps you from getting the bezier-curve envelopes you really want. (Side note: I prefer Catmull splines, myself.) And it turns out David Zicarelli was on the grassy knoll working for the CIA, or something. (Another side note: I just got to link to Geocities! And it’s still running!)

It seems zany, but then this is the week when the mainstream computer tech blogosphere is speculating about the likelihood of Microsoft switching to spherical interfaces. (Look out, Apple "i"! And will that get people high, like the sphere in Woody Allen’s Sleeper?)

No One Needs a Vocoder – Henke

Okay, I digress. The really amazing thing is this comes up today, again, when shortly after the original video was widely debunked earlier this year. Here’s the problem: just a few days after the video, Ableton co-founder Robert Henke had this to say about vocoders — hilariously:


We can add this to the long list of things we’d like to put on t-shirts. This is the same event at which Henke told a crowd that no one needs 64-bit, and sometimes you don’t even need 16.

And, yeah, the debunking music video is more fun that the original rumor. Speaking of which, I suppose Ableton could still be working on a vocoder. After all, Steve Jobs infamously told the press in 2004 that Apple might just as well make the iPod a toaster as add video capability. (Engadget, tragically, said something even more embarassing: "Fair enough, but it means that they’re basically ceding the market for personal video players to Sony, which will be making a big push in this department soon." Uh … right. The PSP and UMD destroyed Apple’s future.)

Just to cover my own blog, I’ll say this: Ableton could turn all of Live 9 into a giant vocoder / talkbox. Think drum racks, but the whole Session View is one big carrier. It’ll be sold as a separate bundle, and Laurie Anderson, Daft Punk, and Kraftwerk will contribute presets.

Or not.

It could, or could not happen.

You heard it here first.

Okay, update — as it happens, check out comments for some excellent arguments for the vocoder resurfacing.

Since I can’t bring any resolution to the existence or non-existence of an Ableton Vocoder (and if I knew of one, I couldn’t tell you, anyway), I’ll just conclude with this: it doesn’t matter. No, really — it doesn’t matter. If Ableton builds a vocoder, we’ll have a blast with it. It won’t influence the development of Live the host, just as other instruments haven’t; the host has continued to mature. If they don’t, well, we’ll go make one in Reaktor or Max or Pd or something. (It’s not actually that hard to build a vocoder technically, which could give people additional fodder to assume they may have done it.)

Ableton, you’re welcome to use my name suggestions if you like. 😉

Latest updates on the forums: Robert didn’t know about the parody video, and supposedly Ableton is working on a vocoder, or some other special effect.

Read more here (for Robert) and here (latest forum discussion).

Ah, but how do you know I’m not working for Ableton to put everyone off the scent.

And I could be inside Robert’s mind right now.

Thank goodness music software companies aren’t as secretive as some companies in the tech world.

  • Having a little fun today Peter? You've used up all the parenthesis… now i have to use curly braces {yes i really do!}. 😛

  • Speaking of Berlin, I’m hoping to find some smaller scale electronic/digital-oriented shows to attend when I’m there in May (20th-27th). I’m heading down from Denmark (conference presentation) and am hoping to make the best of my stay (i.e. immerse myself in the local music scene). I haven’t been back since 2001 (year I spent in Freiburg) and, while I still have friends in Berlin, they don’t have my tastes in music.

    That being said, does anyone reading this post know any shows going on then or know any sites that would list shows in Berlin? I’m hoping to save myself hours of Googling.

    My apologies for being a bit off-topic, Peter. I *do* think I need to take a photo outside the offices at Ableton, though. Hehe.

  • So Peter, you are saying that there isn't a vocoder because Robert debunks it?

    At the time this was filmed Robert was spending a month or so in Australia / NZ and was away from Berlin. As amazing as it may seem that Robert may not know about a vocoder there is a post from him when he actually returned to Berlin.


    I was surprised that this video at the Ableton office was made. I am on tour and I had no idea. So, it makes sense that I was confused.

    The video edit was made by Ableton staff as a joke of course, perhaps on Robert!

  • Gar Collins


    "No one needs a vocoder Henke"


    "Do I think a Vocoder is a cool thing? Yes. I do. There is much more that can be done with a Vocoder then a Daft Punk track. And, Vocoder A might sound different from Vocoder B, allowing you to do different kinds of things…

    I think, that thing one of our developpers is currently coding, and that you saw on the screen, will gona be a shit load of fun once out. I personally really looking forward to have it. And I am not using Vocoders usually. "

    Looks like it's official anyway, word from the office today is that they are actually working on a secret effect that nobody actually needs 🙂


  • i'm absolutely sure robert's remark is ironic. an open minded musician like him wouldn't call vocoders an exotic effect that no one uses. to me that sounds more like a hint that they are working on "abletonizing" the vocoder concept. and we have seen the video footage after all!

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  • Ah, okay.

    So this does NOT count as one of my Great Moments in Journalism.

    I'm now completely confused. It does in fact sound like they're working on a vocoder. Anyway, I'm still waiting to hear more about the Cycling 74 / Ableton collaboration, when that goes public, so stay tuned.

  • And, uh, yeah, I shouldn't have said anything. Should have just watched that video over and over again. That's hilarious.

  • Actually I believe that is Jeremy Bernstien, not David Zicarelli.

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  • Okay.. .so I haven't used a Vocoder befoer… well because I only Use Ableton host wise.. and it doesn't have it… as it say above.. LOL

    However I do know… In Computer Music's March 08 Issue Number 123 in the back of the magazine in the help section there is a step by step guide to Using CM Vocoder with Ableton Live…

    It tells you how to set up their free plugin to work in Ableton..(picture with routing and all… )…

    Just thought this would help some peeps… ALSO check out MusicTech Focus' recent issue that has all Ableton Live Guide for version 7…. there are more turtorials and more instructions than any other guide I have seen…

    I learned more from this magazine in the past week than I have learned in the Past 2 years using other sources…

    It is amazing!!!! It even has live sets to go with all of the tutorials… check it out online.. you can order the single issue!!

  • @vade: did I say it was David?

    @Micah: absolutely, it's possible to route vocoders in Live. I do it with NI's Vokator. There are lots of applications for vocoders, too, aside from just the conventional voice effects, particularly dependent on your source and the vocoder's implementation / controls.

  • I think this is a good time to pimp my vocoder hacked entirely out of live-racks and the new compressor.


  • Hilarious stuff 🙂

    Hey, isnt that Claes Johanssen of Vember Audio playing with that vocoder?

    Tum tum tum tum…

  • Peter – perhaps I assumed you were inferring, grassy knoll == inside ableton, working on teh top sekret projectz….

  • Hi Peter, Hi everyone..

    here is what the "camera crew" of MusoTalk has report on this,-) Actually the video was cleared by Ableton before I released it. When I did the "tour" most Ableton employees were not aware I was filming for my website "MUSOTALK". I got a bit of heat from the Abs after the releases..but I think they got the best promotion for the next update and absolutly for free..

  • Mikey

    I think it's hilarious how these companies keep their future features under wraps like they are Coca Cola protecting a new drink recipe. Whoa! A vocoder! In Ableton Live! What a shocker! Who would have thunk????? Please. No one cares, including their competitors. Same thing can be said for hardware synth features. A ribbon controller!! NO WAY!!!! Yawn.

  • Mikey, i think thats a bit harsh. The reality of feature provision in product incriments is that you sit on what youre working on. When a feature can result in millions of sales you tend to take it seriously. Even the most common things might be considered as non disclosured because the time and energy you spend on a vocoder for instance is time and energy not being spent on Mega Rad Future Shaping Thing.

    Also lets consider that everything Ableton does for its supplied effects and processing tools affects the market in terms of the third party developers. There are lots and lots of reasons not to talk about your vocoder in progress, or your ribbon controller or your space time flux capacito… erm… forget i said anything about that last one.

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  • and the conclusion on Ableton's forums:

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